Lost City of the Jungle (1946)

LOST CITY OF THE JUNGLE (1946)
Article 1940 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-7-2006
Posting Date: 12-4-2006
Directed by Lewis D. Collins and Ray Taylor
Featuring Russell Hayden, Jane Adams, Lionel Atwill

An agent from the United Peace Foundation is sent to the isolated province of Pendrang to find out if a man named Geoffrey Wood  (believed deceased) is really a warmonger known as Sir Eric Hazarias. This turns out to be true, and Hazarias is in Pendrang to try to locate a rare element that will allow him to create a defense to the atomic bomb, a device that would give any nation the power to take over the world.

There’s a very curious plot device to this serial; despite the fact that the main bad guy is supposed to be the Atwill character (Sir Eric Hazarias), he claims that his secretary Malborn (John Mylong, the fatherly scientist in ROBOT MONSTER) is the actual leader and brains behind the outfit. With this plot set-up, I was preparing myself for a specific twist – namely, that Malborn would turn out to be the real Sir Eric Hazarias, and that the Atwill character would turn out to be a decoy of some sort. However, events in chapter 12 proved me incorrect, and so I was left wondering what the reason was for this odd plot device.

However, IMDB lists one piece of trivia about the serial which provides a clue as to why this happened. Lionel Atwill was ill during the filming and died of bronchial cancer. This would explain the odd structure; if he was unable to shoot certain scenes, the device of having another man who was actually in charge would allow him to substitute for Atwill in a number of scenes. This makes more sense to me than the other explanation I had, as it seemed to me to be a little too clever for the type of plot that serials usually have. Still, this strange plot set-up fueled my curiosity about what the final revelations would be, and it may have made the serial a little more interesting to me than it otherwise would have been. Still, I did like the fact that the leader of Pendrang (a woman called Indra) was one of those characters that could end up siding with either hero or villain. There’s also a significant amount of fantastic content in this one, including a device that can destroy buildings through sound vibrations, and the deadly radioactive element Meteorium which can disintegrate anyone who looks at it unless they’re wearing protective garb. The serial also features Keye Luke and Gene Roth.

 

Lash of the Penitentes (1937)

LASH OF THE PENITENTES (1937)
aka The Penitente Murder Case
Article 1895 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-23-2006
Posting Date: 10-20-2006
Directed by Roland Price and Harry Revier
Featuring Marie DeForrest, William Marcos, Victor Justi

A writer investigates a cult of Penitentes in New Mexico.

The cast list above is questionable; though they may have appeared in the movie as it originally appeared, only about half of the footage survives, and what does survive does not include a nude scene that was rare for that time. Still, exploitation fans will probably have a use for this one; it mostly consists of documentary footage of the Penitente self-flagellation cult going about their business, and some of the footage is quite bloody. Still, I’m not sure that this really qualifies as a horror movie; if it does, than I’ll probably be covering stuff like MONDO CANE sometime in the future. It’s quite possible; at least one of the goals of horror is to shock, and there’s no doubt that to most of us, this is pretty shocking. Still, it does make you wonder just what kind of frame of mind you’d have to be in to be a member of this cult.

Incidentally, the Penitentes don’t treat chickens all that well either.

Liliom (1934)

LILIOM (1934)
Article 1893 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-21-2006
Posting Date: 10-18-2006
Directed by Fritz Lang
Featuring Charles Boyer, Madeleine Ozeray, Florelle

A young woman falls in love with a charismatic but brutish carnival man.

Forget CAROUSEL and the 1930 version of this movie; when I want to experience this one, I’m going with this version, even if my copy is in unsubtitled French. Why? Two words: Fritz Lang. With him at the helm, the story is a rich cinematic experience; many of the scenes are fascinating even if you don’t know understand the language, and some of them tell their parts of the story so well, language is unnecessary. The opening scene is just an example; the visuals, acting, body language and facial expressions are so vivid and informative you know exactly what’s going on in the scene. Another plus is Charles Boyer; to date, he is the only person I’ve seen in the Liliom role who brings it to life; just watching his reactions to various events makes the movie a joy, especially the scene where he learns that he’s going to be a father (which, I must admit, I was only able to figure out because I’ve seen other versions of the story). Lang doesn’t stint on the darkness of the story, which is a good thing, but he also pays attention to the romantic underpinnings of it all. He also remains the only director who has handled the movie with such aplomb that I’m willing to overlook my main objection to the story, which is that it comes a little too close romanticizing abusive behavior for my liking. It helps that we see Liliom’s own reaction to seeing himself slap Julie in flashback (during the afterlife sequence, the reason this movie qualifies for this series), and it also helps that when they get to the “slap that felt like a kiss” line, it’s in French so I don’t really know what’s being said. Maybe this is my way of saying that ignorance is bliss, and if it is, so be it. Still, I think I’d like this version of the movie with subtitles just as well. And the scene with the lawyer trying to stamp the papers is hilarious in any language.

The Land that Time Forgot (1975)

THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT (1975)
Article #1765 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-13-2006
Posting Date: 6-12-2006
Directed by Kevin Connor
Featuring Doug McClure, John McEnery, Susan Penhaligon

A small boat of survivors of a sunken British ship manage to capture a German U-Boat, but in the ensuing power struggle, they get lost in the ocean. They manage to find a previously undiscovered prehistoric world called Caprona.

This was the first of four adventure movies directed by Kevin Connor and starring Doug McClure that were made in the mid-to-late seventies; I’ve already covered the last one, WARLORDS OF ATLANTIS for this series. Though none of them are very good, there seems to be a certain amount of affection for the series, and even I, who never warmed to them, feel reluctant to dwell on their flaws. I think it might be because I admire these movies for the modesty of their goals and their lack of pretension. At heart, they were trying to revive an old-fashioned type of adventure story that had almost vanished in cinema at that time, and even if I don’t warm to the movies themselves, I warm to the concept. Yes, the special effects are often less than convincing, but they’re not so bad that they merely become laughable, and I would imagine that anyone who came to these movies for the sole purpose of having a good time would find them acceptable. In fact, there were certain elements of this movie I really liked; the concept that as you go further north in Caprona, the evolutionary level progresses, and my favorite moment is the one where the primitive caveman Ahm leaves his new companions and joins another tribe as he moves up the ladder of evolution himself. Still, I wish the movie really did more with the concept. My favorite character is probably that of the U-Boat commander, Captin Von Shoenvorts, and I was about to praise the performance of John McEnery, but I just discovered that his voice was dubbed by Anton Diffring in this movie, so both actors merit a mention in this regard. The cast also includes Anthony Ainley, who would take over the role of The Master on “Doctor Who” in a few years.

The Legend of Lylah Clare (1968)

THE LEGEND OF LYLAH CLARE (1968)
Article #1731 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-10-2005
Posting Date; 5-9-2006
Directed by Robert Aldrich
Featuring Kim Novak, Peter Finch, Ernest Borgnine

A director hoping to shoot a biopic about a famous actress who died under strange circumstances discovers a woman who looks identical to her, and decides to prepare her for the role. However, the woman’s mousy character starts to give way to the personality of the actress she’s portraying.

Robert Aldrich made some classic movies, but this isn’t one of them. Even its supporters seem to like it mainly for its campy bad-movie elements. Though I will admit to liking many bad movies for precisely the same reason, this type of bad movie isn’t my cup of tea. The fantastic element is a bit of a question mark; has the woman hired to play the role of Lylah Clare actually been possessed by her spirit? The trouble is (from the position of verifying its fantastic content) that the movie never really addresses this issue; it’s too busy presenting us with its succession of Hollywood stereotypes and movie-making cliches. It’s one of those movies where too many women speak with (supposedly sexy but bad) foreign accents, too many arrogant, egotistical and/or bitchy characters show up, and the human elements and the satirical jabs get lost in the mix. Overall, it feels like a bloated soap opera. For those interested in seeing a good Robert Aldrich movie, you can scan the theater marquee in the movie for the name of one. For me, the best moment in the movie was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance of Dick Miller as a reporter, and the fun I had speculating about certain similarities between this movie and another Kim Novak movie made for a rather famous director.

The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (1960)
Article #1717 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-26-2005
Posting Date: 4-25-2006
Directed by Roger Corman
Featuring Jonathan Haze, Jackie Joseph, Mel Welles

A simpleton is on the verge of losing his job at a florist’s shop on skid row, but is given a chance to keep his job if he nurses a crossbred plant back to health. He then discovers that the plant feeds on human blood….

I can’t believe that it took as long as it did for this movie to finally make it to this series. It’s been a favorite of mine ever since I viewed it on my local Creature Feature, and it was the first movie I ever bought after I purchased a VCR. It’s also one of the easiest movies to find on video, as it is not only in the public domain but easy to market as well (just put it together with THE TERROR and market it as a Jack Nicholson double feature). For me, it was also one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen.

I still love the movie to this day. It has a dizzying array of memorable characters and great performances. Jonathan Haze gives his best performance as Seymour Krelboyne, the hopeless incompetent who is forced to turn to murder in order to keep his job; Jackie Joseph and Mel Welles are also excellent as the dim but lovable Audrey Fulquard and the testy but greedy Gravis Mushnik, both of whom spout malaprops with alarming consistency. There is also a man who eats flowers (Dick Miller), Seymour’s hypochondriac mother (Myrtle Vail), a woman in need of a constant supply of carnations for the funerals of her many relations (Leola Wendorff), a sadistic dentist (John Shaner) and his masochistic patient (Jack Nicholson in a hilarious cameo), two dragnet-style cops (Wally Campo and Jack Warford) whose only real method of detection is to be in the right place in the right time. There are other characters as well, but in many ways, I think the real star is Charles Griffith, who was given by Roger Corman the task of cloning his script for the successful BUCKET OF BLOOD, and did such an amazing job of converting a dark satire into a slapstick farce that unless you were aware of it, you might not notice that the story is same in both of the movies. Furthermore, Griffith plays four roles in the movie as well, most notably as a burglar who tries to rob Mushnik and the voice of the plant, Audrey Jr., and he does such a fine job in both roles that it’s a shame he didn’t do more acting. To this day, I still find it one of the funniest comedies around, and a perfect example of just how good a low-budget movie can be with a strong script and a good cast.

The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972)

THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK (1972)
Article #1715 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-24-2005
Posting Date: 4-23-2006
Directed by Charles B. Pierce
Featuring Vern Stierman, Chuck Pierce, William Stumpp

A hairy monster wanders the wooded areas around Boggy Creek in Fouke, Arkansas.

When it comes to real-life monsters like this, I tend towards skepticism, but I recognize in myself a romantic desire to want to believe in their existence. This movie actually addresses this issue; the final narration grants the viewer the privilege to dismiss it as a hoax, but it does urge you to keep your eyes on the wooded areas near the roads should you ever be in the area, and I’m willing to bet that if I did make it down to Fouke, I would keep my eyes open. The movie itself is a mixed bag, but it is quite effective at moments; the locations are authentic and genuinely eerie, many of the characters are real people (I particularly liked Herb Jones, a hermit living deep in the bottoms who has a nearby tree decorated with bottles that he uses for fishing and who, incidentally, denies the existence of the monster), and at times there are interesting little touches of detail (I liked the fact that when the man is wheeled into the hospital, we get a quick glimpse of the hole in his sock). The recreation of the encounters with the beast are a mixed bag. The best involves a boy running into the woods with his rifle in the hope of bagging a deer, and the way the camera follows him as he runs for a spurt and then stops to listen for the howling of the dogs, runs again, etc. until he he suddenly finds himself facing the monster is wonderful. Far less convincing is the final third of the movie, a lengthy reconstruction of the story of two families who have moved to the area and encounter the monster. I also have little use for the sappy songs that pop up on occasion, but I could watch that eerie scenery for hours on end. Whether the monster exists or not, it’s obvious that the filmmakers used the spooky locations very well indeed.